This is the World We Made
AUGUST 28TH, 2000
It was a big day for Kelly Dawson. Who wouldn’t be nervous on their first day of high school? But to her, it felt incredibly monumental and wildly daunting.
Sunny Peaks High School felt less like going from a junior high to a high school campus, and more like jumping from elementary school to college grounds. For one thing, living in the Texas hill country meant that she didn’t actually live anywhere near the school. The bus ride from her home to Sunny Peaks was a solid 45 minutes in one direction. Because of this, the high school probably had to be that large in order to serve such a large rural area.
To 14-year-old Kelly, traveling from one end of the high school campus to the other felt like an epic journey in a video game, one in which some old man told the player they needed to take a mystical item from their dusty little hometown to the other end of the earth, past forests and mountains and oceans, to reach its final resting place before some evil mastermind could steal the power for himself. She couldn’t believe she was expected to travel all the way from the choir hall in first period to the opposite side of the building for a second period math class in under seven minutes. The faculty knew the building was too big and too overcrowded with students from five different neighboring counties all flooding the hallways at once. Regardless, expectations were strict, and digital clocks displaying the current time as well as the time to the next class period were fixed along every hallway in order to further impress upon the student body the urgency in making it to class on time. Despite this, wading through the bodies of fellow students made this task seem nigh unto impossible without running in small bursts as the opportunity arose.
There were so many students that not everyone was fortunate enough to be assigned a locker. Luckily it was assumed that Freshmen would have the largest volume of textbook-requiring classes, and so Kelly was fortunate enough to acquire a locker of her own. She stared at her schedule, printed on a sheet of computer paper, which had been mailed to her home over the summer break, and then proceeded to separate her textbooks into those she would need before lunch and those she would need after. Anything she needed early in the day, she kept with her in her backpack. Everything else would get stowed away for later.
As she slowly rotated the dial on her locker, desperately trying to memorize the number combination, she caught glimpses of all kinds of people who were probably experiencing a much different day than she was. There were people excited for their specific extracurricular activities–sports, cheerleading, theater. There were people who seemed to know each other forever. They looked older, so maybe they were in grades ahead of her. Occasionally she saw someone who was a sophomore or maybe even a junior that she had remembered from many years ago in elementary or middle school, but they would have never recognized her in return by this point in time. Sometimes she even saw other people from the same grade as her, who appeared to have very large tight-knit groups of friends, already laughing and joking with one another as if nothing about this new experience was overwhelming to any of them. But Kelly was even more surprised at the vast amount of students who appeared to be her age and yet she had never seen before at all. But this was largely due to the fact that this high school served as the meeting space for students across a large region of rural south Texas. While some small towns had their own elementary and middle schools, there was only one high school to serve the entire area, and Sunny Peaks was it. She had no idea who most of these people were. To Kelly, attending Sunny Peaks felt less like the normal progression from middle to high school, and more like she had moved to an entirely new town altogether.
Closing a selection of books away behind her locker, it was easy for Kelly to get wrapped up in her own thoughts, easy to become overwhelmed by the travel distance to and from school, easy to stress about how long it took her to run from one wing of the building to the other and the various possible routes in which she could reach her destination, and very easy to feel lost in a sea of people she didn’t know and would probably never get to know over the course of four years.
Although, it didn’t mean all of her fears were especially well-founded. After all, even though she was standing inside some school that was brand new to her, she wasn’t truly alone.
“Kelly! There you are, you fart!”
Although the words seemed teasing, Kelly knew they were in good nature. Pushing through the crowded hall was one of her older friends, Clara, carrying a sketchbook in one arm pulled against her chest and holding a lunchbox in the other hand. Clara was loud and somewhat abrasive, but she was mostly in good spirits and didn’t actually mean any harm. She rushed up and slammed her back against the locker neighboring Kelly’s.
“Can you believe my mom dropped me off here 20 minutes ago? It took me that long just to figure out where to find the lockers!”
“I know,” Kelly replied, rolling her eyes. “At least you didn’t have to take the bus here. It always means getting up even earlier so they can pick up everybody back at the lake.”
“Don’t get too jealous just yet. Mom starts her new job soon and I’m gonna have to take the bus with ya from time to time, too, ya know.”
Hearing that made Kelly feel at least somewhat relieved. Riding the bus alone this morning had meant sitting in a vehicle full of kids she didn’t know and having to share a seat with a guy who wouldn’t stop talking about what was happening in his favorite fantasy novels. It’s not like she thought fantasy novels were bad, it’s that the guy somehow just managed to hold an entire conversation by himself even though he had never met the person he was speaking to. Sharing a seat with Clara was going to make that a whole lot more tolerable.
“Well, where are you going first today, Clara? You’ve got band, right?”
“Yeah, down in the music department wing. Which means we can both head in the same direction, since the choir hall is right next door!”
“Oh, good. That means if we get lost, at least we’ll both be lost together.”
“Whoo-hoo! Adventure buddies!” Clara shouted into the air, pumping her fist.
As the pair began walking away from the lockers, Kelly wondered aloud.
“Hey, wasn’t Aurora picking up band this year, too?”
“Yeah, she said she was gonna meet me down at the band hall, so I bet we’ll see her once we get down there.”
Kelly, Clara, and Aurora. The three of them had grown close recently. It had taken a long time, but their familiarity had built over the course of the last several years. They’d spent many elementary and middle school days together in some of the same classes, and even had played soccer together for a couple of years. Their moms had all grown to like each other, and it made running into each other happen more frequently. By the time high school started, the three of them were finally comfortable enough hanging out together somewhat regularly.
It was a nice feeling, because prior to this, Kelly couldn’t say she had a lot of people around her that she considered to be especially close friends. It wasn’t as though people were especially mean to her. Rather, Kelly oftentimes simply felt invisible. She had memorized a lot of her classmates' faces and names. She spent a lot of time looking over old yearbooks and enjoyed seeing how her peers grew and changed. But at the end of the day, she didn’t think anybody else had ever remembered her like that. There would sometimes be someone she would pass in the hallway, and she would vividly remember some silly interaction they’d had all the way back in second grade. There’s no way that person would remember they were even in the same class back then at all.
But hanging out with Clara and Aurora was different. Since they’d shared some similar extracurricular activities, it finally felt like she’d met some people that could understand her, and maybe even liked having her around. For just a brief moment that morning, it felt like things could finally be different.
Some time passed and the two girls reached the music wing. Sure enough, the band hall and the choir hall were adjacent to one another. Sitting on the floor between the two doors was a girl in glasses, with her backpack on the ground beside her. She perked up with great excitement.
“Well, look at that! The two doofuses decided to show up!”
Looks like Aurora had picked up a little bit on Clara’s vocabulary. But once again, Kelly had learned that she meant her teasing in the most loving way possible.
“Aurora! I didn’t hear from you all summer!” Kelly ran up to meet her other friend and dropped her backpack on the floor next to her, squatting down to meet her on her level.
“Haha, yeah, I know. My mom got really mad at how much time I was spending on the Internet.”
“Well, yeah, ya dork!” Clara scoffed, standing above her two other friends. “You found that weird chat room of yours and spent so much time playing make believe with a bunch of strangers, I bet your mom couldn’t make any phone calls.”
“Hey, she talks to people all the time! In fact, she talks on the phone so much, it’s annoying!”
“You know,” Kelly jumped in, “that’s exactly why I wish my family would install a second phone line. My mom wants to talk on the phone to her friends a lot, too, and my dad actually uses the Internet more than you’d think. And since we share one family computer, it’d be nice if they’d actually get me a computer of my own.”
Clara rolled her eyes. “Honestly, the two of you have got it real easy. It’s not like you have to fight with your two younger siblings over who gets to use the damn computer. And then you get your parents yelling at you ‘cause you’re not sharing enough.”
Clara was right, of course. Aurora had an older brother that she didn’t often see, and Kelly was an only child, so their home lives were all pretty different from each other. They probably all thought they had things worse than their friends, but the truth was probably more that their issues at home were all just different and unique, and none of them really any worse than the others’.
“Hey, do you guys already know what instruments you’re playing?” Kelly asked the both of her friends, not entirely sure how band works.
“Yeah, we chose our instruments just before the semester started,” Clara replied.
“And we’re getting them today! I’ve got the SAXOPHONE!” Aurora lifted her hands into the air and raised her voice. It didn’t seem to take all that much to get her excited.
“And I’m on clarinet.”
“Clara, did you just choose the clarinet because it sounds like your own name?”
“Look, I had to pick an extracurricular class, and I don’t know anything about music, so I just picked the first instrument that came to mind, okay!?”
Kelly giggled nervously. The last thing she wanted to do was irritate her friend on the first day of school.
Clara continued. “At least Aurora over here has some choir experience, so she can sight read her sheet music already.”
“Sure, but not all that well. After all, Kelly, you’re the one that got into the varsity mixed choir. I was only able to make junior varsity, so my choir class is tomorrow.”
Kelly smiled. “Yeah, it’s a shame we’ll miss each other. But it means we’ll get to see each other at the seasonal concerts, since that’s when all the choirs perform together!”
Although she was sad that she wasn’t sharing her music class with her friends, Kelly was very proud of having made the varsity mixed choir. Apparently this was fairly rare, and that usually freshmen had to prove themselves and work their way up to the varsity choral groups.
But Kelly had already started with one advantage. Her parents had convinced her to start taking piano lessons when she was in kindergarten, and she hadn’t stopped playing ever since. For that reason, her understanding of music theory and her ability to sight read sheet music was already far beyond that of most of her classmates. Her parents had been longtime semi-professional singers and songwriters as well, and so the pressure to be a musician was immense. Kelly didn’t think she was quite as good of a singer as her mom was, but she could carry a tune, and everything else she’d been learning about music theory for the last eight years was already putting her ahead of the curve.
While the girls talked to each other outside their respective classrooms, the first school bell rang, indicating they had seven minutes to get to their classes. Since they were already there, that gave them just enough time to wrap up their conversations and get where they needed to be. Kelly and Aurora grabbed their bags and stood up from the floor.
“Hey, if I don’t see you guys after class, we’ll meet at lunch, right?” asked Kelly.
“For sure. I’ve got a lot of sketches I’ve been working on over the break that I wanna show you two later.” Clara held up the sketchbook that she’d been carrying under her arm.
“Heck yeah! You’re the best artist I know, Clara!” Aurora couldn’t help but boast about her friend’s art. Kelly had to admit it was true, too. She’d never known anyone who was as gifted in art as Clara was. “Have you drawn a picture of me yet? I told you I wanted you to do a picture of me!”
“God, you’re so damn greedy! I’ll do it this week, okay?”
“Woot! I can’t wait!”
“Well, all right, I’m gonna go figure out the choir’s seating arrangement. Catch you two later, then!”
“Later, butt munch!” Clara said with a scoff and a wink.
“Haha, you said butt munch!” Aurora really wasn’t difficult to amuse.
Kelly, Clara, and Aurora all went into their respective classrooms. Kelly felt encouraged by the mostly friendly conversation between them, glad to not be completely alone in the new experience. Somewhere between rushing around the campus and trying to make the grade, she knew that the three of them were going to do their best to make something of themselves this year. Each of the three of them were good at some different cool and creative things. She couldn’t help but wonder if that would be useful to them one day. Maybe with their skills combined, they could create something really wonderful together.
But all of that would have to wait to be discussed over lunch.